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A fresher Slaughtneil look to snatch back Derry title from Glen

Glen's Danny Tallon (14) wheels away after netting during the Derry SFC final win over Slaughtneil at Celtic Park last November 			Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Glen's Danny Tallon (14) wheels away after netting during the Derry SFC final win over Slaughtneil at Celtic Park last November Picture: Margaret McLaughlin Glen's Danny Tallon (14) wheels away after netting during the Derry SFC final win over Slaughtneil at Celtic Park last November Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

O’Neils Derry SFC final: Glen v Slaughtneil (Sunday, Celtic Park, 3.30pm)

BY the time Danny Tallon slotted beyond goalkeeper Antóin McMullan, Slaughtneil’s goose was already cooked in last year’s county final.

Tallon’s poke gave Glen a 1-6 to 0-1 interval lead. The piercing runs of Ethan Doherty and Ciaran McFaul had Slaughtneil treading water in the choppiest of seas.

Secondly, with Michael Warnock allowed to sweep in front of Shane McGuigan, it was 19 minutes before the Emmet’s got a shot at the posts.

There was just nothing stopping Glen’s hunger boosted juggernaut on their way to a first title. Paul Bradley’s side would’ve been aware the second half last year was a damage limitation job and, while they took it on the chin, it would’ve been a winter of deep reflection.

A walk down Maghera street this week struggles to find the same hype as last year. The narrative is that Sunday will be different.

There will be no cakewalk. Slaughtneil have been steadier than last year when they were just getting by in games. If Patsy Bradley recovers from his late knock in their win over Lavey, they’ll be picking from a full deck.

From last year, neither Ciaran McFaul nor Conor McDevitt are available to Malachy O’Rourke, but they’ve plenty of options and made the same comfortable route to the final.

The bleached blond-haired duo of Jack Doherty and Ryan Dougan sent a message out in their semi-final win over Magherafelt.

They attacked Rossa at will, a sign of Ryan Porter’s calculated conditioning programme tailored to having the Wattys primed for when it really matters.

When the Glen management demanded more energy in their last 16 game against Ballinascreen, the players didn’t react until a Benny Heron sparked them into a burst on the way to a 10-point win.

Aside from a travesty, they’d be in the shake-up and it was a matter to tipping away in a championship race that was difficult to get excited about until Glen pulled Magherafelt in the quarter-final.

Billed as the repeat clash of the 2019 final, the first half was high octane. Blow for blow, the sides traded points until half-time offered relief.

Magherafelt pushed 0-8 to 0-6 ahead, but Stevie O’Hara bundled in a goal that shot Glen on their way to the last four.

Glen won all 11 of their kickouts in last year’s final, but the semi-final against Newbridge hinted at a change of tack. They lined up their defenders to leave the bunch and break tactic, giving Connlan Bradley the option of picking out a runner on the wing.

Behind that, his younger brother Emmett and Conor Glass were stationed and four of the kick-outs against the ’ Bridge were lumped long with a 50 per cent success rate. It offered a plan B if opponents aggressively pressed up.

There are few managers that work on the opponents’ kick-out than Malachy O’Rourke the five Glen won of McMullan’s 19 in last year’s final helped keep a lid on Slaughtneil’s launchpad.

They will be disappointed not to have restricted Newbridge goalkeeper Gribbin more in the semi-final despite having jerseys flooded in zonal fashion to limit space.

Shane McGuigan is playing much deeper and is a kickout option the Emmet’s, with Jerome McGuigan back on the panel and would be one of five changes since last year’s final.

Cormac O’Doherty is back on board and it offers Slaughtneil a chance to eradicate Glen’s chances of playing a sweeper.

With games often decided in the final furlong, where Slaughtneil will hope to take tomorrow to, it may tempt the Emmet’s to keep Sé McGuigan in reserve, with Brian Cassidy as a possible starter.

When you strip Glen’s performances back last year, yes Ciaran McFaul was their quarter-back, but it was Conor Glass sitting in the defensive midfield role that pulled all their pieces together. His natural defensive instinct and positional sense made him their spine.

With Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley carrying 60 per cent of the Slaughtneil scoring so far, he may sit deeper in McFaul’s absence.

Slaughtneil face a similar conundrum at the other end. Jamie Duggan and Matthew Downey’s kick passed unlocked their defence for two goals against Lavey.

Chrissy McKaigue was moved to play as a sitter in front of Niall Toner to blot Lavey out, it’s something Glen’s system won’t allow. Not easily.

Conleth McGuckin pulls out deep, but 0-9 over six games will keep him respected, and leaving Tiernan Flanagan free is equally dangerous.

Rogers’s stationing at wing back looked like a move with Ethan Doherty in mind, though Padraig Cassidy could drop back to allow Rogers to line out at midfield on Glass who he made hay alongside for Derry in the Ulster final.

Karl McKaigue will face a big hour on Jack Doherty if they Emmet’s are to wrestle the John McLaughlin Cup back.

Defeat cuts deep. Especially a convincing one against your neighbours. Having two weeks to prepare this year will be a welcome luxury.

Slaughtneil’s danger lies with McGuigan and Bradley, with the Doherty brothers posing most of the Glen questions with their direct running game. A fresher Slaughtneil

Paths to the final

Slaughtneil

Group stages: Slaughtneil 3-18 Steelstown 0-4, Slaughtneil 2-8 Newbridge 0-8, Slaughtneil 0-18 Ballinderry 0-6

Last 16: Slaughtneil 3-19 Claudy -0-3

Quarter-final: Slaughtneil 0-16 Swatragh 0-6

Semi-final: Slaughtneil 2-12 Lavey 2-4

Glen

Group stages: Glen 2-15 Claudy 1-6, Glen 1-20 Banagher 0-11, Glen 0-14 Swatragh 1-9

Last 16: Glen 3-11 Ballinascreen 1-7

Quarter-final: Glen 1-14 Magherafelt 0-11

Semi-final: Glen 2-12 Newbridge 0-4